Teachers join administrators for ‘educational boot camp’

Summer Institute participants (front to back) Brianne Tuura, Jennifer Brown, Degen Bushman, and Cynthia Townsend. Photo by Julie Titone, College of Education
PULLMAN – Veteran high school teacher Matt Coulter has no desire to sit behind a principal’s or superintendent’s desk. 
Instead, the career possibilities that spark his ambition ignition include mentoring teachers, developing curriculum, and instructing college classes.
So the Olympia resident came to Pullman for two weeks this month to meet with 50 other professionals working on education doctoral (Ed.D.) degrees at WSU’s College of Education’s annual Summer Institute.  For the first time this year, participants included people such as Coulter who are specializing in teacher leadership, a new degree option. Others are in the 6-year-old educational leadership program designed for school administrators.
The students are people who work full time, study part time and like the “action research” approach that is the hallmark of the Ed.D., said Associate Professor Rick Sawyer.
“The Ed.D. isn’t like the traditional Ph.D., which focuses on formal research primarily to contribute to scholarly publications,” said Sawyer, who directs the teacher leadership program. “These students are here to learn how they can use research to continually improve their practice. The bottom line is helping their own students learn.”
Sawyer is based at WSU Vancouver, and, like his doctoral students, comes to Pullman for the institute.  The Ed.D. students take classes at WSU campuses throughout the state, sometimes being taught through video link by faculty experts on other campuses. 
“Bringing the teacher leadership group together with the educational leadership group lets both benefit from having larger numbers of doctoral students together, something they don’t usually experience because they are from all over the state,” said Professor Gail Furman of WSU Spokane, who oversees the educational leadership component. “They can share experiences and advice, and often make connections in terms of research interests.” 
The institute is also the one time of the year when the students focus entirely on their doctoral studies, with special attention to their dissertations.
“It’s educational boot camp,” said student Melody Rasmor as the July 6-16 session came to an end.  “I’ve been able to focus on my teaching, my research and myself without the home front distractions: work, dishes, work, kids … .”
Rasmor teaches nursing at WSU Vancouver. She will focus her research on ways to change nurse practitioners’ sometimes negative attitudes about uninsured patients.  Sawyer was pleasantly surprised to find college-level instructors like Rasmor applying for the teacher leadership program, but Rasmor described it as a great fit.
“I am learning so much here from teachers across the state about what engages students in the classroom,” she said. “The philosophy and learning techniques of education are not usually taught in nursing education unless you specialize.”
Coulter, who teaches history at Tumwater High School, said the quality of other doctoral students is one of the strengths of the program.
“You get to know some incredible people who you can learn from. So many of the faculty and students have impressive resumes and have lived some amazing lives.”
WSU’s Ed.D. program is challenging but not overwhelming, he added: “Not too easy or too difficult, but just right.”